In blogpost, Liew Chin Tong compares and contrasts the leadership structures of DAP and Umno

Danial Dzulkifly
·5-min read
DAP Johor chief Liew Chin Tong explained how the party’s central executive committee (CEC), secretary-general and its chairman are elected. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim
DAP Johor chief Liew Chin Tong explained how the party’s central executive committee (CEC), secretary-general and its chairman are elected. — Picture by Mukhriz Hazim

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — Unlike Umno, DAP’s leadership structure is more democratic and has far more checks and balances, said DAP Johor chief Liew Chin Tong.

In a blog post today, Liew explained how the party’s central executive committee (CEC), secretary-general and its chairman are elected.

He added that while the secretary-general post presides over the party’s operations, the office bearer is still answerable to the CEC and the party’s chairman.

“I am often asked why is DAP’s ‘president’ not elected directly by delegates? For a start, DAP has no president. Following the tradition of left-wing parties, DAP’s No. 1 leader is the secretary-general.

“In the DAP, the secretary-general is someone like the CEO of an organisation while the chairman is akin to the chairman of the board. The chairman exercises checks-and-balances over the CEO through the board meetings — in DAP’s case, it would be the central executive committee (CEC) meetings.

“The secretary-general/CEO has no absolute power. He has executive power for operations but when it comes to policies he has to abide by the collective wisdom of the CEC/Board. Yet, not having an all-powerful party president is a blessing for DAP. Just look at Umno under Datuk Seri Najib Razak and you would know what I mean.

“Delegates at the DAP National Congress elect 30 CEC members and from whom a secretary-general, a chairman and other office bearers are elected,” he said.

Liew said that such a system is different from Umno where the president holds absolute power and even drew comparisons between the Republican party in the United States, which saw Donald J. Trump “hijacking” its platform.

“I recently read that a confused DAP leader implied that this system is ‘undemocratic’ and presumably needed to be ‘reformed’ to one that allows delegates to elect directly a president like those in Umno, MCA, PKR, etc.

“My reply is simple: Do you want to abolish the parliamentary system that Malaysia practises and replace it with a US-style presidential system simply because you believe the parliamentary system is ‘undemocratic’?

“We elect 222 MPs in Parliament and from whom a Prime Minister is elected. In the case of DAP, the delegates elect 30 CEC members and from whom the Secretary-General is elected.

“I am of the view that more parties in Malaysia will come around and adopt a parliamentary system like that of DAP’s as such a system allows for more collegiate and coherent working relations within the leadership. It can also prevent a lone ranger like Donald Trump to hijack the entire party’s platform out of nowhere or like Najib that held his party to ransom,” he said, referring to former Umno president and former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.

Najib stepped down from his post following Barisan Nasional loss in the historic 2018 polls.

Liew also stated that DAP has no parliamentary warlord while the state leadership is democratically elected by its members.

“Unlike most other political parties in Malaysia, DAP did not follow Umno’s 1960 move to curb state leadership. DAP’s state leadership is elected, and occasionally fiercely and democratically contested.

“In most parts of DAP’s history, the party hardly has more than a handful of branches in its respective parliamentary constituency. A powerful divisional level was a luxury when DAP was a permanent opposition party.

“DAP’s party structure at the parliamentary level is called a ‘liaison committee’ which used to be elected but will soon be led by existing elected reps in the areas when the amended party constitution is enforced. The role of the parliamentary level is purely for coordination purposes,” he said.

This differs from Umno which had removed elected state leadership and instead allowed the party president to elect state leaders said Liew.

“Internally, Umno removed the layer of elected state leadership and allowed the party president to appoint state liaison chiefs and committees to prevent future recalcitrants like Dr Mahathir to take charge of a state party. Ironically, when Dr Mahathir became Prime Minister he found the system very useful.

“With Umno controlling most state governments from 1959 to 2018, every single prime minister had effective control over the state chief ministers through his power to appoint or remove Umno state liaison chiefs.

“This is the root cause of Malaysia’s overly-centralised federalism which may now see some new impetus for change given that the power of the central government is now fragmented. The prime minister now comes from Bersatu while mentri besar of several states are from Umno. I can foresee that if the prime minister were to call a snap poll, most Umno mentri besar would not follow suit,” he said.

Liew also pointed out that Umno is also plagued with divisional warlords who dislike challenges to their position.

“When Umno removed elections of state leadership, the party moved election to one level down, which is the parliamentary divisions. Umno is now stuck with the divisional warlords.

“One of the most important reasons why Umno atrophied at the grassroots level was because divisional leaders do not want to see smart and capable new entries to challenge them,” he said.

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